I talk with many different businesses that are considering Vertical Measures as their digital marketing agency. Many of these businesses come to us because they’ve seen our ½ day content marketing workshops and breakout sessions at conferences all around the world. Others come to us because they’re frustrated with their current agency. This story is about a business that was losing website traffic and not very happy with their agency.
An Artist Gets the Horns from his Marketing Agency
I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see a photo of an elk in a digital marketing blog post. It’s featured below because of a recent experience I had while visiting Montana. It revolves around some friends of mine and their experience with an agency that was helping them with their website.
Being a digital marketer is sometimes like being an auto-mechanic. When your friends find out what industry you’re in, they immediately ask you to look under the hood.
One of the coolest things about being in this industry is the opportunity to work with so many types of businesses. From Fortune 100 corporations to mom and pop small businesses, we’ve helped them all. So, when I was visiting my good friend Katie Ward in Montana, I wasn’t stumped when she told me about her husband’s online business.
Katie is married to Jim Swanson. Jim is an artist. He makes antler chandeliers.
He has a very interesting background from being a Marine, to making a living on a fishing boat, to creating the most beautiful antler chandeliers. He grew his business from going door to door in Colorado. He’d take a trailer full of chandeliers he made and then find really cool houses, knock on their doors and sell them off his trailer.
Fast forward to the late 90’s and Jim had his first website built – it’s been up and running since then. Some of his experience with digital marketing companies have been good, and others, not so good.
What Happened to Antler Chandeliers’ Website?
As a client, never…I repeat… never accept that you can’t get weekly or monthly reports that assemble and analyze what’s happening to your traffic, leads and conversions. Jim was not getting reports from his agency, and he knew something was wrong because his phone stopped ringing and his orders slowed to a stop.
He recently had his site rebuilt to ‘freshen it up’ and make it responsive for phones and tablet devices. The agency did a good job on the redesign but failed in some important areas.
What their agency failed to do:
- Add Google Analytics code to the site for continued tracking and measurement, causing a gap in their data.
- Set up redirects for the new pages from the migration of the old site to the new site. This caused his rankings to significantly drop.
- Set the site up with a secured certificate (SSL).
- Ensure all the pages on the website were using SEO best practices.
During the website redesign, the agency that created the new site did not set up redirects for the new pages. The new site had a new URL structure which made all the old links dead pages. Once I started looking at the data, we found that 8 of the top 10 most trafficked pages were 404’s. In other words, most of their traffic was hitting ‘not found’ pages.
This was also the case with their paid ads. All the traffic was being directed to dead pages. This had a two-fold impact:
1. Their rankings dropped in Google because of the bounce rate and dead pages.
2. All the money they spent on advertising was not converting because the traffic was going to the wrong pages.
This all could have been avoided.
Yes, the agency should have done the re-directs but the client should have checked the basic information. As a client, check every page on your site. I can’t tell you how many sites I’ve analyzed and discovered 404 pages, broken links and incomplete information; even on sites that have entire teams dedicated to the website. This can all be avoided with some due diligence.
I get it. Small business owners are very busy. They’re wearing multiple hats and focused on making their businesses run. But they must treat their website like a business asset and take the time to learn basic website fundamentals to know what their agency is providing.
How We Helped Antler Chandeliers Recover
In working with Jim and Katie, we completed the following to improve their traffic and rankings:
Added relevant content for their audience
We spent time adding content that their potential customers were actually searching for using Vertical Measures’ content ideation process.
For example, there’s a misconception that the antlers in the antler chandeliers come from animals that have been hunted and killed for their racks (The ‘shed’ story). This is not true, as the antlers are shed each year and collected. Using the ideation process we came up with other titles like:
- How Are Antler Chandeliers Made?
- What is the Difference Between Elk and Deer Antlers?
- How Are Antler Chandeliers Installed?
Adding these new pages allowed them to get found for more keyword phrases and also gives them the ability to link to product landing pages from this new content.
Edited and improved meta descriptions
Previously, their meta descriptions were missing and/or not focused on click-through rate (CTR). Meta descriptions are no longer a ranking factor but when well-written can influence the searcher to click on the listing as opposed to other listings on the search engine results page.
Now that Google has expanded the character limit to 300 it’s much easier to write a compelling description with priority keywords and associated semantic terms. Google has also been bolding not just the searched keywords but also the related terms as they display the meta descriptions in the SERPs.
Added calls-to-action to product pages
They did not have any calls-to-action on their product pages. Their site is not set up for online purchases (yet) and although they have great product photos, they did not tell the user what to do next when they landed on the product pages. We added a toll-free number and email address for users to move to the next step of the customer journey.
Many websites miss this important element. Look at the pages on your site and ask yourself, what do you want the user to do next? If it’s not perfectly clear, edit the page so it is. You don’t want a potential customer to bounce from the site because the next step is unclear.
Added H-Tags to all content pages
H-tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are SEO standards for best practice. They let the search engines know what the content following is all about. You should have only one H1 tag per page and it should include your focus or priority keyword. We rewrote these to reflect the page topic and made sure there was only one per page.
Optimized image names and compressed for small file size
Although the product images are well done, they were named with the camera default file names. So, images for antler chandeliers were named DSN0023.jpg. Many potential buyers want to see images prior to purchase and by naming the images with appropriate keywords and including alt tags, they have a much better chance of getting found in image searches.
Don’t discount the value of image searches. Jumpshot and Moz did a recent survey where they looked at the most popular search properties. As no surprise, Google.com came up as the most trafficked search site at 53% of the traffic and Google Images came up as number 2 with 26.79% of the traffic.
Make sure you are optimizing your images to get in on this enormous search activity.
Utilized internal linking throughout website
We created internal links supporting main landing pages to increase authority of the website.
They were not utilizing internal linking. Creating links in content pages that point to your most important landing pages can increase their page authority and help them rank for specific keyword phrases. We helped them strategically place links on blog and core pages pointing to their ‘money’ pages.
What’s been the result of these fixes?
Well, the phone is ringing again, orders are coming in and both Katie and Jim know a lot more about what to inspect and expect from their agency.
We fixed many SEO issues and quickly returned organic traffic to their website. You can see by the images below what a dramatic impact this has had with their traffic and rankings:
- 198 keywords in the Google top 100, with 25 first page results
- Today 550+ keywords in the Google top 100, with 42 first page results
- Keywords in the Google top 100 up 300%
- Keywords on the first page of results up 68%
Keywords they are ranking for are directly related to their priority products. The trend is very positive and should show further increases.
Traffic has finally improved since their drop. They are now averaging over 2,000 visits/month.
In addition to ranking for these short ‘head terms’, they are also ranking for long tail terms. When we first met and talked about how to build traffic to their site, I walked them through how Vertical Measures finds topics, themes and headlines. We focus on creating content that prospects are actually searching for.
We use Google to search for terms and let their search algorithm auto-complete our keyword search. For example, see how Google auto-completes the initial search below.
Google is telling us that searchers are asking, “How are antler chandeliers installed?” The team at Antler Chandeliers wrote a post using this exact search phrase as the headline.
They currently rank in the first position on Google for this term and also for an ancillary search, “How are antler chandeliers made?”
Let Google show you what prospects are searching for and write content that supports those searches. The trick is to conduct the auto-complete search, and then perform an actual search for that specific term. If no one is addressing that topic, there’s a great opportunity to rank for the term by creating and publishing great content focused on that particular search.
Whether you’re an enterprise level company or a small to medium size business, focusing on your digital marketing is one of the most important things you can do. Following best practices and taking on some of the responsibility for your partnership with your agency can pay off with big dividends.
What’s Next for Antler Chandeliers?
Add content around what users are actively searching for in Google
They will need to continue to create content using the techniques described above. Remember, the Internet is not static. Your competition is not standing still. To continue to maintain and grow keyword rankings, Antler Chandeliers (and you) will need to publish content on a regular and frequent basis.
As they continue to write content, using the hub and spoke model will help them build their lead nurture database. Currently, the only download content they have is a product catalog. This is great for a prospect that is far along in their customer journey…just about ready to buy. Other hub content can focus on someone just starting their customer journey. Someone that doesn’t know what they want, yet, but aware they have a need. For example:
- Rustic Lighting Guide
- Top Trends in Interior Lighting Design
- Best Chandelier Designs for 2019
Once the user downloads the content, they can continue to communicate via email offering additional content and reasons to move toward a purchase. By doing this, they will start the lead nurture process and build their database of an “owned” audience.
This owned audience can be nurtured over time with fresh content, special deals and more. The prospect’s email address is actually a business asset as they can communicate directly through email.
Improve Page Load Speed
The site scores well for desktop at 98 out of 100 on the Google Page Speed Insights tool. The mobile version of the site scores a 70. There are a number of things they can do to improve the overall mobile speed of the site. See the chart below from Google’s speed test.
Continue Effective Link Building Strategies
Links will help to further develop their domain authority, drive traffic and improve keyword rankings. The key is to have really great content that other websites want to link to from their own website. Thin content will not attract great links.
As Antler Chandeliers continue to create great content, they will acquire more backlinks. Backlinks are still one of the most important ranking criteria. Look at what a Google research scientist and senior strategist have to say about link building:
Link building is something that happens naturally, if you’ve done everything else right. You can accelerate that process by promoting your content and by outreach to publishers to make them aware of the great content you are publishing. Our link building team does exactly that. We don’t buy links for our clients, we use a number of tactics to accelerate that natural process and alerting other websites is just one of the tactics we use.
Focus on growing their owned audience
Once you get a prospect to give you their name and email address, they become part of your owned audience. That means you can communicate with them via email whenever you want. Email is the least expensive digital marketing channel and the one that most people prefer. By building your owned audience, you are creating business assets in the form of:
You can reach out to prospects that have shown interest and downloaded a piece of content, such as case study, eBook or product catalog. Once they provide some information to access this gated content, you already know they’ve shown interest and trust in your brand/product. Reach out based on their interest and lead them to the next step of the customer journey. Studies have shown there is an increased likelihood of closing a prospect up to the 7th email. If you’re not sending at least 7 emails, you’re leaving opportunities on the table.
Stay in touch with your current customers. Let them know about ancillary or complimentary products, sales and new items based on what they’ve already purchased. Engage with them through surveys and questionnaires to discover what else you could offer. You can also ask them to provide testimonials and reviews that will help you close even more business.
And finally, for Katie and Jim, keep creating awesome rustic lighting that customers love.
Should Antler Chandeliers Fire their Digital Marketing Agency?
Now that you have some background on what I was able to do for Jim and Kelly’s business, and where their agency had fallen short of expectations, the question is: should they fire the agency?
I’ve seen some common mistakes that have caused once successful websites to falter and their traffic drop dramatically. It’s because the agency made mistakes and/or didn’t follow through.
I’ve asked prospective clients what their agency is currently doing for them and I often get blank stares or quick generic statements like:
- “They’re doing our SEO.”
- “They’re building links.”
- And my favorite, “I’m not sure.”
When I dig in and start to ask specific questions about exactly what the agency is doing for them, they can’t tell me. They never received a detailed scope of work pointing out what steps and deliverables are part of ‘doing our SEO’ or ‘building links’.
Sometimes the client isn’t sophisticated or informed enough on digital marketing and doesn’t know what to inspect or even the right questions to ask. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
And, while I can’t answer this question for Antler Chandeliers or for your situation – I can point out some basic warning signs and things to watch out for when you engage with an agency. I can also point out some items that should be the agency’s responsibility and things that are the client’s. Your agency should be your ‘partner’, which means sharing responsibilities – and it’s critical toward building a good agency/client relationship.
- Create a detailed scope of work that allows the client to fully understand the work you’ll be doing for them and by when.
- Help the client understand the ‘why’ behind your activities.
- Engage with the client and ‘teach’ them along the way. Show them what you’re doing and why it’s important.
- Communicate on a regular and frequent basis
- Do the right thing
- Inspect what you expect
- Ask questions if you don’t understand
- Hold the agency accountable for the work they’ve contracted to do
- Communicate on a regular and frequent basis
These should be warning signs if your agency is telling you the following:
- “We can get you immediate ‘organic’ traffic.”
- “We have link packages.”
- “We can migrate your site with no problem overnight.”
- “We don’t do reporting.”
- “You don’t have complete access to your admin login and analytics.”
- “You don’t have credentials for your hosting and URL registration.”
What should be happening?
It’s your agency’s job to use their expertise and skill to advance your brand, boost your traffic and takes steps for you to ‘own’ your audience. They’ll need to collect data, analyze that data and report back to you on what the data means and what their next steps will be.
- You should set up weekly calls to go over the data with specific action steps. These calls can spread to monthly once you get started and have momentum.
- You should have access to all the credentials for your site, hosting, admin and analytics
- You should have a plan in place with what the agency is doing on a month to month basis
When it all comes together, and you have that great relationship, here’s what happens:
Testimonial from Jim Swanson of Antler Chandeliers:
Well, the phone is ringing, and customers are finding me.
This is the most telephone and internet activity I’ve seen in nearly a year.
We have a ways to go yet, but I can clearly see a positive change.
I want to thank you for all you’ve done Mike, and I’m thoroughly impressed with your knowledge of SEO, and also your extensive knowledge in sales.
Things are good around here today, hope you’re doing well.
Looking forward to going fishing with you some more too.
Thanks again, Jim“
Testimonial from Katie Ward of Antler Chandeliers:
We were amazed how much working with an agency that knows SEO and content marketing meant to our business.
You took the role of digital marketing coach and taught us how to add significant and relevant content.
You also guided us in renaming images and strategically crafting meta tag descriptions.
Not only are we way up in traffic, our orders are booked out for months. We have also noticed a higher quality of client.
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